IFA calls for extension of EU nitrates derogation until spring 2022

The Irish Farmers Association has called for the EU nitrates derogation to be extended until spring 2022. This comes after delays at a European level to approve the programme facilitating its operation for the next three years.

A new Nitrates Action Programme for 2022 to 2025 has been formulated by the Government to ensure that fertiliser on Irish farms does not contribute to excess pollution of rivers, lakes and waterways.

Ireland receives a derogation under the EU Nitrates Directive that allows intensive farmers – mainly dairy farmers – to apply 250kg of livestock manure per hectare, rather than 170kg. That derogation comes up for review at year’s end. Assessing the proposed Nitrates Action Programme for the next three years forms part of that review.

However, it emerged on Friday that the review will not be completed by the end of the year leaving Irish agriculture with no action programme and an uncertain status as to whether or not the derogation can apply in the first months of 2022.

IFA Environment Chair Paul O’Brien called for the existing nitrates regulation (including the derogation) to be extended until the next Nitrates Action Programme and accompanying derogation have been put in place.

“This news is extremely worrying,” he said. The existing nitrates regulations are due to expire at the end of the year, yet the new proposals are not agreed.”

He said the Department of Agriculture must extend the current Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters regulation and the associated nitrates derogation to provide farmers with certainty”.

“Farmers need assurances that they can continue to operate under the existing regulation and derogation until the NAP review process has been completed and approved by the European Commission in the new year,” he said.

Sub-optimum standard

Earlier this year, the EPA published a report that said that agricultural run-off was a major contributor to pollution of rivers and lakes, with almost 50 per cent at a sub-optimum ecological standard.

While the level of nitrates is high, it is not amongst the highest in Europe. European Commission data showed that in the 2016 to 2019 period, Ireland, along with Cyprus and Malta, had high phosphate balances, above 20kg per hectare.

The recent Climate Action Plan committed the agricultural sector to a sharp decline in fertiliser use. However, notwithstanding that, the Department of Agriculture has argued for the continuation of the derogation allowing farmers (mainly in dairy) to use higher amounts of manure on their land, subject to stricter agro-environmental conditions.

Five States in all receive the derogation: Belgium; Denmark; Ireland; Italy, and the Netherlands. Northern Ireland (but not the rest of the UK) has also been grated the derogation.

On Friday night, the Department of Agriculture moved to reassure farmers there would be a continuity of the existing programme until a decision was made and the delay would not leave farmers in a position of uncertainty.

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